An IAF helicopter crashed in Kashmir on Wednesday, killing six servicemen and a civilian
By Ajai Shukla
Editorial Comment in Business Standard
28th Feb 19
The downing of an Indian Air Force (IAF) MiG-21 fighter on Wednesday (Pakistan has claimed it has shot down two) and the capture and vulgar parading on Pakistani television of an Indian pilot illustrates how quickly things turn for the worse once countries enter a spiral of violence. In a clear escalation of hostilities, Indian fighter jets also shot down a Pakistani aircraft. Later in the day, India issued a demarche to Pakistan on its “unprovoked act of aggression” and there were reports that mortar fire had been exchanged between Indian and Pakistani troops across the Line of Control. On Tuesday, India had achieved a tactical coup in successfully striking a Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist training camp in Balakot, deep inside Pakistan. It became clear a day later that the challenge for India and Pakistan now is to contain the latest escalation before things get completely out of control. If India decides to respond with more violence and Pakistan continues striking back, there could be many shifts of fortune, since escalation is a game of uncertain outcomes.
Pakistan has signalled that it wants immediate de-escalation. As the smaller and weaker country, it was under pressure to respond and, having done so, clearly believes it has saved face and wants to take this no further. India has demonstrated its anger at the killing of 40 security men near Pulwama and has demonstrated its ability, wherewithal and will to retaliate and impose costs on Pakistan. But de-escalation requires both sides to withdraw with prestige intact and that situation prevails at this moment. India would do well to wind down tensions. If either side decides it must impose itself further on the other, there is no telling where that leads.
New Delhi would reach that same conclusion through thinking strategically and logically about the consequences of uncontrolled escalation – and beyond a point, all escalation is uncontrollable – and a drift towards war. As the more powerful, wealthier country that enjoys growing international prestige, it has far more to lose than Pakistan, which would try to paint even a messy stalemate as a victory against India. The time has come to think strategically, eschewing jingoistic fervour and avoiding taking decisions through the prism of electoral benefits and compulsions. It is advisable to pull back from taking the spiral of violence any further.
India must harness the tide of international support that has turned in its favour after the attack on a terror camp in a non-civilian isolated area, a non-military target. That’s the reason why few countries have rushed to Islamabad’s defence so far. In this climate, India’s restraint is likely to be lauded. The high moral ground and international pressure will also play in India’s favour for a quick return of the captured pilot. The Pulwama attack and its aftermath have, going by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statement on Wednesday, jolted Pakistani decision-makers and leaders. It must be looked at as an opportunity to tone down the rhetoric in a lead-up to resuming dialogue, both with Pakistan and within Kashmir. In that context, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s statement in China that her country would “act with responsibility and restraint” is a relief.